Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spa Girl loves the heavenly blooms of Lavender

Today was a perfect summer day and I visited a friend who has been working very hard on her garden.  To my delight she has been nurturing a wonderful lavender garden.

If you do a little sleuthing there is most likely a lavender farm near you and July is the perfect time to follow your noise, it's harvest time. 

There are so many benefits of this fragrant hardy perennial besides its natural beauty. Native to the Mediterranean region lavender was historically used in ancient Egypt for mummifying bodies. Lavender's use as a bath additive originated in Persia, Greece, and Rome and the herb's name comes from the Latin lavare, which means "to wash."   It is such a natural for spa lovers!

Jennifer Chait writes...

The benefits of lavender, a fragrant flowering herb, have been documented for well over 2000 years. The Egyptians used lavender for mummification purposes. It’s been noted that the Virgin Mary was fond of lavender’s insect repellent qualities. The Romans used lavender to freshen their breath and baths. Middle Age and Renaissance women used dried lavender to repel the plague. And by the 16th century herbalists began to hype the healing qualities of lavender exclaiming that it could treat everything from stomach pain to mental illness. Currently most aromatherapy books and organizations present lavender as one of the most overall useful essential oils to have in your home.

A part of the mint family there are over 50 different species of lavender plants, but the most common are:

Lavendula Augustifolia (English lavender, true lavender, Lavandula officinalis and Lavandula vera)  True lavender is the most versatile of the essential lavender oil extracts. This small plant produces single blueish-purple flowers on each stem, and yields a sweet, fragrant oil. This oil is the most sought after because it has such a wide range of uses including therapeutic, aromatherapy, medicinal (see our articles on lavender oil health benefits and lavender oil uses). True lavender oil is also used for perfumes because of its sweet, delicate aroma. 

Lavandula Latifolia (Commonly known as Spike Lavender, Lavandula Spica)  Spike Lavender plants has small flowers on long, spiky branches. Spike Lavender has a higher yield of essential oil, thus, it is inexpensive to produce. Spike lavender oil is sometimes considered to be "inferior" due to its sharp smell. This smell comes from the higher camphor concentration. Spike lavender still has several uses. It is a great antiviral, (works well in household products). It is also used to add fragrance to soaps, detergents and other products. 

Lavandin (Lavandula hybrida, Lavandula hortensis or Lavandula burnatii).  It is a cross (hybrid) between spike lavender and Lavender angustifolia. Lavandin is a easier crop to produce than true lavender, thus making it's essential oil less expensive to produce. Lavandin also contains higher concentrations of camphor, giving it a harsher fragrance than true lavender. Due to the stronger and longer lasting scent, it is sometimes used to add fragrance to soaps, detergents and other products. Lavandin does still have some of the calming effects of true lavender, and has antiseptic properties. 

Lavender Stoechas  Lavender Stoechas is spiky plant that produces purple-blue flowers in Spring and Summer. This lavender has a significant amount of ketones and is not usually used for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. This lavender is usually used in landscaping.

Throughout its long history lavender was used as an antiseptic and for stress relief, today in addition to its past uses it is known to help with anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, cuts and scrapes,
 and headaches. it is also widely used for its wonderful aromatic scent, in teas, perfumes, in the bath,  and in the laundry.  Just tie up a bundle of blossoms in a  cheese cloth and toss in the dryer, or try lavender water for in your iron for that ultimate heavenly scent.

Lavender also makes a lovely floral accent in many dishes, and one of my all time favourites is lavender cookies.

Enjoy Spa Girls...

Lavender Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup butter, softened 
3/4 cup sugar 
1 extra large egg, lightly beaten 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 tablespoons dried culinary lavender, chopped 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Lightly grease a cookie sheet 3. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar; mix well. 4. Beat in the egg. 5. Sift together the flour and baking powder into the mixture. 6. Add the lavender; stir until thoroughly combined. 7. Drop spoonfuls of the cookie mixture onto the baking sheet; bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. 8. Let cool for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Organic lavender cookies with a Balsamic Reduction
 2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 large egg, room temp
1 tsp lemon zest (preferably meyer lemon)
1 tsp organic lavender flowers

preheat oven to 350 degrees. grease 2 baking sheets or use silpat. set aside. sift together flour, baking soda and salt...set aside. using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. add sugar and cream together until well mixed. add honey and egg and incorporate well. add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and beat until well blended. add lemon zest and lavender and mix until incorporated into batter. drop by teaspoonfuls onto prepared sheets leaving approx. 2 inches of space between each cookie (dough will spread when baking). bake until cookies just begin to turn brown...12-15 minutes. remove from oven and cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. remove cookies from sheets, place on racks and allow to thoroughly cool.

balsamic reduction
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 tsp organic honey
1 tsp organic agave nectar

Add ingredients to saucepan and cook over medium heat until liquid has reduced by half. allow to cool. store in a mason jar in refrigerator..drizzle on cookies, cheese, fruit (esp. strawberries), steak, roasted or poached chicken, steamed vegetables, pound cake....

Cooking with Lavender...

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